Tuesday, February 16, 2016
The Cancer Journey, 3
On February 2, Groundhog's Day, and just thirteen days after receiving my diagnosis, I fasted and prayed and presented my sacrificial body to the local hospital. With a minimum of fuss, apparently having realized that I was a flight risk, I was ushered into a small room and told to change my clothes for a gown and a pair of "lovely designer socks." One size fits all, of course. The most striking feature of the socks is that they have non-slip soles, for those few times when the nurses will actually let you out of bed. They are made of soft cotton, are washable, and go home with you.
The gown was made of paper. Stiff paper. It could have held the largest person I know, but on me it stood straight out in all directions. It was also incredibly hot. The nurse came back, took one glance at my apparently reddening face, and ran to get a cloth gown. When she brought it back and I quickly changed, I asked her about the paper gown, which was lined with extra paper. It also had holes in it, lined with a rubber seal like the opening to a vacuum cleaner bag, that did not penetrate the lining.
"It can be inflated with hot air," she explained, showing me a tube that ran from the wall. "Some people like it."
Not people whose estrogen has been suddenly stopped just a week previous, I don't think.
We went through the normal surgical preliminaries -- starting the IV, allowing in the visitors, a quick chat with the anesthesiology people. I repeated again and again my one great wish, "Please have a big bucket on the bed in the recovery room. Not a spit-up tray. I throw up after general anesthesia. I really throw up."
And everyone assured me it was okay, that the anesthesiologist has drugs for this sort of stuff. And I would repeat my request. And I would get assurances...
And then I and my surgical buddy were whisked down for some pre-surgery work. I had to have a wire installed in my breast. In order to make sure to get the tumor with a minimum of effort and damage, a radiologist used an ultrasound to guide a wire into the center of the mass. As he planned his route, he muttered, "I'm going to go right through the center of both of them."
"Both?" I was supposed to have only one tumor. I didn't like the idea of new tumors suddenly popping up. That's a bad, very bad sign.
"Lesions. The other could be a hematoma."
"According to the MRI, it's a hematoma," I said, a bit relieved. I hugged my surgery buddy tightly.
After the wire was installed, I was also injected with a radioactive tracer that would help the doctor know which lymph nodes to sample. And then a mammogram to verify that the wire was correctly placed. And the doctor proudly said, "Right though all three of them."
"The tumor, the 'hematoma,' and the marker clip." I could hear the quotation marks in his voice.
Along the way we discussed the identity of my surgery buddy. His technician was the only person that day to even know who he was, and even she only recognized the name, and not his immensely cute, squishable form.
And then came the surgery, which lasted under half an hour, and I came aware in the recovery room. After a few minutes polite discussion, I suddenly begged for the bucket. She gave me a spit-up tray. And then she gave me something bigger. And then again, and again, and again, and... Finally she hung another bag of fluids so that I would at least go home well-hydrated.
Reaction 1, drugs 0.
Pathology confirmed that that the tumor was no more than one centimeter at its widest point, and that no cancer cells have been identified beyond its margins. The lymph nodes, the filters on the great sewer system of the body, had caught no cancer cells. It would appear, at this point, that it was caught early and removed cleanly. And that the other thing was indeed a hematoma. Whew!
I don't know what the future treatment will entail. I need some more doctor's visits to determine what path to take. Chemo is not likely, radiation therapy is. Also a drug to starve my body of estrogen, which will make life even more interesting than it already is. But I don't have those answers yet. I haven't reached that part of the quest. Still, the dragon is dead and all that's facing me is the long slog back from Mordor.
The reactions to my having cancer have been interesting. My friends have taken it much worse than I have. But from where I'm standing, this sucker was caught early by an annual mammogram and removed before it could start acting really cancerous. It had not yet begun wandering through my body, and there is a pretty decent chance that even if I refused all further treatment, I would never see it again. And while I have a couple of new scars, and some pain, my body is not particularly mutilated. It's like I'm looking at a crumpled fender yet knowing that I just narrowly missed a catastrophic wreck.
And its even more poignant because, if I had followed the proposed guidelines that women shouldn't bother with a mammogram every year, that every other year is good enough, I would be writing a different story. This would have been my off year, and if I had waited until next year to find this, then I would likely be looking at a full mastectomy, strong chemotherapy, and a much greater chance of recurrence.
So please, go get your annual mammogram. Tell them Cthulhu sent you.